The Future Of Fearless
09.24.08

Before I get into my discussion of Fearless, please know that it ends with a plea for your help. If you've ever felt left out of the process that brought us Fearless or the process through which we define Oberlin, now is the moment to step up and be part of the solution.

What we need here is credibility, and credibility comes foremost from personal narratives: the stories that collectively define a place. From my limited perspective (and a lunch with Mark Edwards), I believe that Fearless was meant to be primarily a vehicle, not necessarily a tagline used without context.

The challenge with Fearless is this: when it is left naked on a hat or a t-shirt, people often misinterpret it to mean "without fear." And that makes us angry, because we all know that Oberlin Fearless is quite a different concept. Oberlin Fearless means embracing that which generates fear and refusing to let it derail our momentum towards a better world. Oberlin Fearless means standing firm in the face of injustice, poverty, racism, homophobia - the things that deny people their right to live and dream. I need not tell you this.

Admittedly, I'm a child of the "Think One Person Can Change The World" generation. That poster hung on my wall for six years between high school and college. When I first saw Fearless, yes, I wondered where my Oberlin was. But in retrospect, that was a lazy response. Oberlin is Oberlin. Nothing's going to change its bones or its pulse - no marketing, no tagline, nothing. I just had to look in a different place, and when I did, I discovered that the stories were the same.

To be clear - Fearless isn't going away anytime soon. Too much time and money have been spent. Those cards were dealt a long time ago, and as I noted above, getting hung up in the history won't do any of us any good. We must instead look for opportunity.

And so we have two options. We can continue to complain about Fearless, as we've done for two years. We can let those complaints fill up google searches for high school kids and let that be their impression of us. Or we can unite as a community and make damn sure the world knows exactly what Fearless means in the context of Oberlin.

At a recent senior staff retreat, I presented an idea to engage the community in deconstructing Fearless, a plan to which we now refer as "The Fearless Prism." The idea is to take a step back from the word itself, break it down into more accessible components, and use those to properly tell the Oberlin story and translate Oberlin's ethos to the world.

This is where you come in. I need at least 1000 of you (that's less than 3% of our current students, faculty, alumni, and staff) to share a personal story that will help the world understand how Oberlin teaches and empowers its people to go out and create change. (Any reference to the word Fearless is completely optional.)

I want to publish so many stories that Oberlin's impact on the world becomes both tangible and intangible in its immensity. I want people to understand that yes, one person can change the world, but one community can influence the evolution of that world, one brave act at a time.

We will then assemble these stories - and broadcast them via the front-and-center section of our new Oberlin.edu homepage - until there are no more stories to share.

The guidelines are simple: personal narratives, 300 words (give or take), truth and transparency. No agendas, please - this isn't a place to bash the Fearless campaign, but a place to define it on your own terms. If a high school junior asked you to put all the marketing aside and just get to the point, how would you define an Oberlin education to him/her through the prism of a pivotal experience in your life, either at - or because of - Oberlin?

Friends, our office can't do this on our own. If you want the world to understand your Oberlin, please contribute to the project. You can send your submissions directly to me - ben dot jones at oberlin dot edu.

Many thanks in advance for your consideration,
Ben

P.S. Our goal is to edit your work as little as possible. If we feel that a piece needs editing, we'll tell you why and then ask you to do it, so that all of the words will remain yours.

P.P.S. Eventually we'll welcome non-written submissions, such as video, photography, or audio. For the site launch in mid-October, however, we're only able to accept written narratives.



Responses To This Entry:

Complaining about "fearless" may have been a lazy response, but most of us feel that "fearless" was a lazy, distasteful choice for our school slogan. And let's be real with each other, that is ALL "fearless" means to anyone. Instead of pouring effort into embracing what I consider to be an absurd representation of this school, I'd rather focus on the more important actual ideals and ideas that might benefit our struggling society.

Also, "fearless" is not an isolated change within Oberlin. To us, it represents the college's plan to mainstream the school (and its funds) away from social sciences and the humanities and into natural sciences. It represents the college's heinous plan to end all off-campus housing and waste money on newer fancy dorms.

Mr. Jones, I appreciate your attempt to reach out to the student body, but please, do not insult us by trying to convince us that "fearless" is anything more than an add campaign. Oberlin is a business that produces the product "education," I won't try to deny that. But the "fearless" slogan is just one part of the administration's transparent attempt to change the face of this college by attracting more and wealthier applicants. Through talking to members of the Alumni association, I have learned that Oberlin is indeed trying to increase applicants. The only reason I can think that they would do this is to ensure that the students who are admitted are richer, have better test scores, and 'perhaps'if they're lucky, they will attract more racial diversity at the same time.

The Social Entrepreneurship (sp?) program also comes to mind. Maybe our new slogan should be "Think one person can change the world? Hell yes, and they can make a ton of money at the same time!!"

Intelligent, socially aware students at Oberlin will not embrace the "fearless" campaign the way you have. (Maybe they're paying you a lot of money for this?) It seems to me that the Oberlin administration is just waiting for my generation to graduate so that they can finally get on with their disturbing new plans.

-S. Cohn

P.S. If you want Oberlin to continue changing the world, ask the administration where the hell are they spending all that endowment?

Posted by: Sonya on September 24, 2008 8:16 PM


I am sorry to say that I'm from one of the classes that was brought here under "Fearless." I almost didn't apply to this school at all because of the Fearless slogan. But I love it here. I am incredibly lucky that I ended up applying, because I feel like Oberlin is the best thing that ever happened to me. How am I supposed to feel, though, knowing that Oberlin is not even trying to attract people like me anymore - how could they be, when their slogan makes me want to retch?

I also agree with Sonya's points about the fundamental changes that are going on here. But since I don't think I can top what she had to say, I'll leave it at that.

Posted by: Anonymous on September 24, 2008 9:45 PM


Dear Sonya and Anonymous,

Thank you so much for your thoughts. This is exactly the sort of dialogue I had hoped to inspire with the original entry, and illustrates much of the disconnect that I believe can be improved by tearing down some curtains and providing a better window into our goals.

There's so much to respond to - I have to run to an alumni event (I'm in Seattle for a conference) but I'll write more as soon as I can, I promise.

Best wishes,
Ben

Posted by: Ben on September 24, 2008 10:21 PM


Fearless works well for me. It's a lot more modern than "Learning and Labor". I think it's actually more realistic than "One person can change the world." Today it's a lot more difficult to believe in the latter than in Oberlin Fearless. I've interviewed a number of prospective students the last two years and most, but not all, were attracted by the Fearless viewbook and the meaning they attach to the word. It may be that some negative responses are to the very idea of "branding" Oberlin. Given traditions of diversity, separateness from the mainstream, excellence in many disciplines, and a college and a conservatory, the very notion that Oberlin can be captured in a word (or two) may bother some. Could there be some improvement in the branding that says what Oberlin is? There may be. And if there is, I wish you well in working a process to discover or create it.

Posted by: Bill Hilton, President, Oberlin Alumni Association on September 25, 2008 2:21 AM


I was quite struck by Sonya's comments, although not necessarily in the manner intended. I've been here for more than 20 years. Some things change; some remain the same. But one thing that really hasn't changed in all that time is the sense from students that the administration is trying to "mainstream" Oberlin. Please don't get me wrong -- I'm not saying that to dismiss it or to condescend; in fact, it's one of the things I like most about this place. Students have long been fiercely committed to a particular sense of Oberlin, and they want to defend it. What I'm suggesting is that this worry is now located in the "fearless" debate; in past years it was situated in other debates.

Perhaps our discussion, then, can help define what it is that we (and I include many faculty along with Sonya and many students and staff) want to preserve of our past; what is it that we're worried will be lost if we're "mainstreamed"? I know, for me, I feel that Oberlin has an unusually proud history, a history to which we attempt to remain both respectful and responsible. But we are not always sure how to do that. We WERE different than other colleges in terms of some very fundamental beliefs and practices. What are those ideals, values, and goals to which we remain committed? I agree with Ben: "Fearless" will remain a useless and empty slogan until WE give it meaning.

So...my understanding of fearless? I'll give you one example: 150 years ago, residents of Oberlin and Wellington cast aside their fear and rescued John Price, a runaway slave, from a Wellington jail. They placed their belief in the humanity of all above a law which said that Price should be returned to Kentucky and slavery. In Oberlin, just a few weeks ago, agents from the immigration service (ICE) raided a local restaurant, took out five undocumented workers, and immediately deported them. The workers, too, had broken a law (crossing without documentation into the U.S. in an attempt, as with John Price, to assert their human right, in this case to earn a living and support their families). What is our response to this modern-day Federal raid to be? Will we be as fearless as those who preceded us in defending their humanity? Answering questions such as this one (and many others) is, imho, at the REAL root of both the "fearless" debate and the "fears" of becoming mainstreamed. But, I would suggest, that the one thing we can't do is let others answer for us. The answers lie in our hands...which is why this conversation is so important.

Posted by: Steve Volk on September 25, 2008 8:38 AM


I have to agree with Mr. Volk - I have also been here 20+ years and have seen the community change. What makes Oberlin unique is its heritage and history and the sense that we are still making that heritage and history. We have to take risks, which I think is what the Fearless campaign is trying to get at (I do have to say, though, that "Fearless" as a slogan is a lot less meaningful to me than "Think one person can change the world?") We have to affirm our history and keep it alive and vital. It is the same thread that starts in 1833 with a group of idealists who believed they could change their world and winds through the 1858 Oberlin-Wellington Rescue and the Temperance movement and Women's Rights and the Viet Nam War protests right through to the Casa Fiesta raid this year.

The Oberlin community will never sell out its ideals, despite what any administration or board of trustees may think it needs to do to improve its future. Oberlin's idealism has been its trademark ever since its founding in 1833 - a slogan won't change that.

Posted by: Ellen Broadwell on September 25, 2008 9:29 AM


Many thanks to everyone for contributing to the thread.

Sonya, I want to clarify a few misconceptions in your post, as I imagine your sentiments are shared by a significant number of students. I'm not sure how the disconnect between student perceptions and the administration's actual plans has grown to its current state, but if this blog serves no other purpose, I hope it will at least make some progress on correcting that.

So, some responses...

First, I'm not asking anyone to embrace Fearless. Sorry if I didn't make that clear. I'm asking us to take a step away from the word and move past the communications speedbump that has existed for two years. I'm trying to build a creative solution that works for everyone - I want the people and stories themselves to define Oberlin, not a single word.

You say "I'd rather focus on the more important actual ideals and ideas that might benefit our struggling society." But this is exactly what I'm asking all of us to do. I'm just asking that we not do it in a vacuum - that we use the real stories of these ideals and ideas to define Oberlin to a world that often misunderstands it.

There is no plan to "mainstream Oberlin." Truly. I wouldn't have accepted this position if that had been the charge set before me. Every generation of Obies thinks the next generation is less "hardcore" than the current generation. The seniors thought this of me when I was a freshman, and I thought it of the freshmen when I was a senior. We were all mistaken.

You've asked me to refrain from trying to convince the community that Fearless is more than a marketing campaign, and I agree with you here as well. Fearless is a marketing campaign. I'm trying to take us on a path away from that, towards substance and credibility.

You are correct that we are trying to attract more applicants. Every admissions office in the country is charged with that task - it was true at MIT when I worked there, and it is true here. Simply stated, one of the best measures of the health of a college is how many people want to go there. It doesn't mean that we're looking to change the type of student we admit, however. Admissions is always looking for the best match to Oberlin.

I have to take issue with your implication that we're only trying to attract wealthier applicants. Please consider the data. Oberlin is ranked #57 in terms of endowment, but #22 in financial aid spending. Can our peer institutions say that?

You ask how the administration is spending the endowment revenue. Here's a hint - Oberlin spends 43 million dollars a year on financial aid. That's practically every cent that our endowment generates. I don't believe any of our peer institutions can say that either.

I encourage you to verify this data on your own and reconsider. I think you'll find that Oberlin's dedication to non-wealthy students in relation to its available resources is unparalleled.

You ask if they're paying me a lot of money to embrace Fearless. Please remember that I got this job by creating a website called beyondfearless.com and submitting it in lieu of a typical cover letter and resume. If I'd wanted to perpetuate the status quo, I doubt I'd have even gotten an interview.

I love Oberlin as much as you do, Sonya. I hope we can work together to help the world understand what that means.

-B

Posted by: Ben on September 25, 2008 2:55 PM


Ben,
I think you're missing an essential peice of this puzzle. Students here do not trust *you* to "clarify context and the administration's motives". As far as most of us are concerned, you are part of the administration. Part of the group of people trying to pull this unimaginative scheme on the entire school and trying to paint it as something it is not.

I will accept that this has been the sentiment for the last 20 years, as two posters pointed out, but I feel that I am dissillusioned from the Oberlin cultural nostalgia. I'm not talking about the Wellington Rescue, I'm talking about the Art Department not having enough money to bring their studios up to fire code. I'm talking about theater students who have been asking for a new performance space since I was a freshman. Obviously, I will commend the college for Finally building the Jazz department its own building, after housing them in a gymnasium...

Listen, the natural sciences deserve the facilities they have, but it should NOT be at the cost of ALL OFF-CAMPUS HOUSING. Let alone what that will do to property owners in Oberlin, many of which are retired professors. The financial aid situation here is admirable, but it does not account for all our budget problems. I don't know what does account for it, because no one will tell us.

Ben, admit that something is wrong. Maybe I'm misguided as to what the problem is exactly, but significant changes are happening here, and it has nothing to do with how "hardcore" the freshman are. (I actually found that statement to be insulting and belittling.)

Seriously though, if the administration does not want to change something significant about Oberlin, then why did they change the slogan??? I know you want me to get "beyond" fearless - but I honestly feel you are being used as a tool to get us to "forget" fearless so that Oberlin can be run like a boarding school. (If I knew I would never be able to live off-campus, I would not apply to Oberlin.)

Be real with me, Ben, or I don't think I have any reason to continue posting here.
-S.Cohn

Posted by: Sonya on September 25, 2008 5:01 PM


Sonya,

As you may know, I've only been here for two months. Students may not trust me yet, but most of them are at least willing to not write me off completely until I've had a chance to earn that trust. It sounds like you've already made up your mind based on my title, however - so anything I say, no matter how honest, will be seen as propaganda. As long as that's the case, we're at an impasse.

I'd like to keep this thread on topic, but if you'd like to grab lunch sometime and discuss the many other issues and concerns you've outlined in your two posts, I'll be happy to do so. Feel free to email me anytime.

Best,
B.

Posted by: Ben on September 25, 2008 6:36 PM


I've been following this. What Ben just posted seems like a copout. Like just a way to avoid Sony'as points.
Why haven't you talked about offcampus housing yet?

-Annie

Posted by: Annie on September 25, 2008 7:59 PM


Annie, I'm not trying to avoid Sonya's points... I just don't have all the facts on many of those issues, and I don't want to comment on issues I don't know enough about. I'm learning as quickly as I can, but it takes time to get up to speed on everything that affects a campus community, especially when there's hardly enough time to tackle the many challenges facing my office specifically.

I do want this blog to stay on topic, which is supposed to be communications. From Sonya's comments and those of other students with whom I've spoken, I recognize that there are some serious issues with internal communications here, and I'm looking into ways to address those. Please stay tuned.

-B

Posted by: Ben on September 25, 2008 8:16 PM


I think I can agree with Sonya's major point though. That Fearless isn't "empty" as some have called it. Rather it has come to stand for all the other changes we don't like that happened like at the same time we got a new slogan.

If your goal is to change that association, well, I can see the reason to do that. But maybe just accept that this is the challenge you are facing. It's not that we just don't like the slogan because it's terrible, we don't like it because it seems part of a bigger ickier picture.

I don't know how yo'ud go about changing something like that.
-Annie

Posted by: Annie on September 25, 2008 8:27 PM


Annie, that is the best concept to come out of this thread so far, and gives me a great deal of perspective.

Thank you for that clarity.

-B

Posted by: Ben on September 25, 2008 8:43 PM


I think that there have been some interesting points raised in the above comments.

First, I have to agree with Sonya that the way in which the fearless campaign was revealed to the Oberlin community was distasteful and pathetic. Personally, I feel like I was lied to. It was a lie when I was told that fearless wouldn't become the new slogan of the college. I was lied to when I was told the slogan "we are oberlin. fearless" would never appear on college t-shirts. I was lied to when I was told that, "think one person can change the world? so do we" would be a motto that the admissions office would continue to use to describe the type of applicants Oberlin is looking for.

That I was lied to is in fact the reason that I am so opposed to the slogan, and why I agree with Annie that it reveals something icky about the way the "administration" implemented this campaign. I will never understand why the "administration" couldn't have been more upfront with the student body and wider Oberlin community, and honestly discussed the challenges they felt Oberlin faced, which merited the creation of the fearless campaign.

It is important to note however that the "administration" that implemented this campaign in 2006-2007, is in fact not the "administration" that exists today. In fact since the fearless campaign has been implemented we have a new College President, General Counsel Secretary, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Vice President of Communications, and have seen the departure of the college's Provost, and Vice President of Development. In fact the only members of the Senior Staff that are here from the academic year of 2006-2007 are the Dean of the Conservatory, Dean of Students, Dean of Studies, and Dean of Admissions.

Sonya--you are right that the college acts as a corporation. The College could do far more to conduct transparent decision-making processes, and solicit student input when it comes to these decisions. That said every college in this country faces a significant problem when it comes to allocating resources, and deciding which of its programs are essential to support, while other programs get neglected. While the total amount that students are expected to pay in tuition and other fee�s is close to $50,000 a year, the total amount of dollars collected from students barely covers half of the operating costs of the college. The fact is that the College has money to do certain things through funds that are restricted to certain programming, and the College doesn't have money to support other projects. If you want more information on this you should talk to anyone in the development office and/or controllers office, who would I am sure be happy to outline the numerous funds which exist at Oberlin to support very specific things, at the cost of disregarding everything else.

You're also right when you describe the fact that students have been asking for additional theatre space since your freshman year. In fact, students have been asking for additional theatre space for the last thirty years, and it has been a stated goal of the college for the last thirty years to create such a space. The reason why the College has yet to build a theatre is simply due to a lack of resources�at least that is what I have been told, and what I have no reason to doubt.

When you discuss that buildings are not up to code--I assume you are referring to the incident last year when a student fell due to some issues with her front steps at blue house--this certainly stands out as a serious issue which if the College hasn't addressed, it needs to do so immediately.

All that said these issues are intertwined only in that the College needs to improve how it communicates with the Oberlin community, and needs to be more receptive to critical feedback. It seems to me that we as students have an opportunity to transform the icky aspects of the fearless campaign into something that I can feel good about.

I have no evidence besides viscous rumors that the fearless campaign reflects a desire to bring a different type of student to Oberlin. I would in fact be curious to see whatever evidence anyone has to the contrary. In fact it would seem to me if the College wanted to ensure that a different type of student would be brought to Oberlin through the fearless campaign, any plan which had current students writing about this campaign in any way they wanted would ultimately be killed by someone high in the "administration". Instead it seems a member of this "administration" has come up with a plan to allow such a silly event to occur.

I am in fact intrigued by the idea of changing the fearless campaign into something I think would be less bad. I wonder why you aren't?

Posted by: Ben Klebanoff, Student Senator on September 25, 2008 10:10 PM


First of all, I'd like to say I'm excited to see Oberlin's website improve. I really hope we'll be able to have a well-organized community space that isn't geared towards advertising.

So, about advertising. I understand that you want to stick with the Fearless campaign and just redefine it. However, what you need to understand is that keeping the campaign isn't what most students want. The change you propose is just to have a bunch of stories to back up Fearless and make it seem like it's always been about something. This is like putting a load of gold bars in a basket made of mud and crab grass and carrying it around saying it's the finest basket in the world.

We want to see an ad campaign about the stories. We don't want a tagline. We want something with substance, something that can be meaningful. We live in a society that increasingly seems to value brevity over quality; I think most Obies would agree that Oberlin should be a place that challenges that trend.

There is increased cynicism on campus about the crushing bureaucracy in the administration and its inability to deal with basic issues such as CIT's general incompetence and lack of proper service, CDS' overly-hasty transition to a trayless system, the lack of action to create a new theater space, and Facilities' and Safety and Security's awful response time. If we've taken two full years to start this discussion on Fearless in a public forum, there's a serious problem here. Harmony isn't ever achieved in an instant, but anything over a year should warn us of our own rising complacency.

Us Obies want two things, basically:
1. For the administration to listen to us and take our opinions seriously.
2. An Oberlin that we're able to change to fit what we as students need.

Oberlin should cater to its students first. And, among many other perfectly reasonable demands, we want Fearless gone.

Posted by: Ben on September 27, 2008 6:11 PM


Thanks for your words, Ben, and points well taken. In addition to the comments above, I've received a lot of emails from students about this thread, and most of them have mirrored your sentiments.

I am trying to navigate a lot of competing forces here and determine whether or not a solution exists that will make things better for everyone. I know I'm not going to make everyone 100% happy with how we represent Oberlin's identity, at least not right away, but I think we can take steps in the right direction without sacrificing all of the time and energy that others have already put into the project.

You mention my plan to "redefine Fearless" which is an interesting word choice, because I honestly don't think it's been defined yet (at least not beyond the marketing). I'm curious to see what will happen if we do define it, in ways that feel right to us as students and alums. Perhaps that's not possible - perhaps no one will contribute to the stories project in a communal act of defiance. But I felt that the idea was worth a shot.

Believe me, I understand that many students (and alums) feel left out of the process that brought us Fearless. The stories project is an attempt to fix that. I know this outreach is coming late - very late - but this is only my second month here and I don't have the perspective or knowledge to speak about things that happened prior to my arrival, so I'm just trying to look forward.

I like what you said about valuing quality over brevity. I hope these stories will provide at least some of the substance we all seem to want.

Just thinking out loud here - what if Fearless was one of many words instead of the only one? What words would you choose? If you were to deconstruct Fearless, what words would you find? Of those, which would resonate with you? I've been throwing some ideas of my own around, and there are so many options. I don't know where that sidebar will ultimately lead, but it's worth thinking about.

I wanted to respond to your comments on the various departments of the administration. This is in no way meant to discredit what you've written, but I think you're forming your opinions based only on the negatives. I receive daily reports from most of these offices and I very much doubt that students have any idea how hard these folks work, how many problems they solve every day that students never hear about because, well, those problems get fixed before students ever find out they existed.

I'm certainly not saying that problems don't exist; that would be naive. For this reason, we're working hard to improve internal communications so that there can be a better, more transparent dialogue between students and the administration. I'm working with Ben Klebanoff to develop an internal communications web site for this very purpose.

But if I can ask a favor, it is that students remain objective and try to recognize the positives along with the negatives when forming opinions the administration. Many of the folks in these departments are my friends and colleagues and I know from experience that they care about students as much as I do. For this reason, generalizations can be really hurtful and often not terribly fair.

In response to the two things you say Obies want, I agree with both of them. #1 is a little more tangible than #2, so that's a promise I can personally make right now.

I think #2 depends on all of us recognizing that we - students, faculty, staff, alums, town, etc. - all have needs, and sometimes they compete. What we need is better communication, better listening, better working together towards understanding and transparency. Personally, this is one of my top goals.

Thanks again for your post - I really appreciate it.

(I'm signing this with my last name this time, as this thread now has three Bens commenting.)

Posted by: Ben Jones on September 27, 2008 8:02 PM


I was very interested to read Ben's comments [i.e., the Ben who posted Sept. 27 at 6:11 -- this IS getting confusing!], specifically the closing comment: "Oberlin should cater to its students first. And, among many other perfectly reasonable demands, we want Fearless gone." There is one central way in which I agree with this: our very mission requires that we (the Oberlin community) put the education of our students first. How we do that is a question of using our resources best, and deciding, in a world of limited resources, who gets what(as Ben J. points out). IMHO, I don't believe these issues are decided by asking students what they want and then implementing it. Student input is essential; student views must be taken into account; and, above all, students must be well informed to be able to participate actively and strategically in a debate over how to use limited resources. But providing the best education to current students depends many more stakeholders in the broader Oberlin community than just our current students. It depends on the tens of thousands of alumni whose respect for their Oberlin education generates (not nearly enough) donations, the faculty who must help organize and structure teaching and learning here, to the staff who help to make this place run (and I would have to ask that all posters think twice before casting such broad-gauged charges as the one Ben/Sept 27 leveled against CIT -- there are many, many incredibly hard working and competent people who work there and almost all of the time get things right), to the administration and the trustees. WE are the Oberlin community who, together, will decide how this place moves ahead.

A number of years ago, I proposed the creation of a course to be required of all students and to be titled something like: "How Oberlin Works." I was surprised then, and remain so now, that relatively few people (including students and faculty) knew how decisions were made here, what were the various formal administrative and informal influence structures that go behind decision making, how to strategically and tactically lobby for a set of interests. I don't think there is much common understanding or information about Oberlin's resource base and how it matches resource demands. Many students don't know about how the tenure process works for faculty. Many faculty don't know about the intricate admissions process that brings students our way, etc, etc. Just being here isn't enough (just as living in Alaska doesn't give one a particular insight on Russian intentions) -- we actually have to become informed. What do you think?

Posted by: Steve Volk on September 28, 2008 10:32 AM


Steve, as someone who landed at Oberlin circa five months ago, I gotta say that improving general understanding of "How Oberlin Works" seems to me to be really key in improving internal communication. And there is much to understand. Personally, I joined the Oberlin staff after working at a museum where the offices were retrofitted into a one-story Victorian era apartment located on the top level of the museum itself, with offices in closets and cubicles in the dining room. It wasn't a space that was designed to be an office, but its chief virtue was its close physical ties to everything about the institution --- the fact that, as a junior staff member in marketing, my office was down the hall from the director, the chief curator, and the CFO, and the window by the Xerox machine looked out over the galleries, providing a reminder of what it was that we were all there to support. Shared purpose and ease of communication were built into the physical space and the size of the institution.

I think ideally Oberlin would have that same small institution mentality, but we have more to overcome to get there. I think it's hitting the nail on the head to trace this whole conversation back to the need for transparency, understanding, and communication. I don't know whether a required course on how to navigate Oberlin would fly (though, personally, I'd be there!), but surely a Wiki in which departments could share how they work, what they're doing, and how to get them to help you wouldn't be too objectionable. Sounds like two of the Bens are working on this, and obviously this blog itself is striving towards the same goal.

But what if we encouraged every new staff member to take a course in which they'd interact with students and faculty? Or gave them a ticket to attend a performance or talk by those same people? What would the analogue be for helping students to understand the experiences of the staff and faculty? The goal, it seems to me, should be for all of us to have a personal face to put on an entity like "the administration." Personal connections, I think, will help us give each other the benefit of the doubt, and thereby the openness to consider other viewpoints. Even as a newbie on campus, I've come to understand that openness is a value to which most people here aspire.

Posted by: Charlotte Landrum on September 28, 2008 3:54 PM


Personally, I am rather ambivalent about the "Fearless" campaign, at least in terms of its substance. How the school attempts to brand itself isn't particularly important to my life or education.

What is troubling is, as Ben Klebanoff indicates, the process by which the College selected that slogan, and the ramifications for the relationship between students and the administration. Really, when I consider the things that I dislike about Oberlin, nearly every single negative aspect relates to the administration and the way that it treats the student body--and I know that I am not alone in those sentiments.

I could write at length on the issues I have with Oberlin, but the other people responding to your post have brought up many of them. Perhaps I will simply pose several questions to you, Ben (Jones):

How can we, as Oberlin students, express the changes that we would like to see on this campus, and see that the administration either acknowledges or acts on those desires?

When there are so many serious issues within the community, many of which involve failures at communication, why does the Fearless campaign even merit any attention at this time?

Posted by: Ted Waddelow on September 28, 2008 7:13 PM


I think a "How Oberlin Works" course would be amazing. Not sure how something like that gets put into practice, but I'd love to see it happen.

@Ted - I think the internal comms site we're working on will go a long way towards answering your first question. As for your second question, Fearless merits attention (at least here on my personal blog) because it's the biggest challenge we face right now in Communications, which is the focus of my office. Unlike many of the other issues presented above, I actually have the power to address this one.

Posted by: Ben Jones on September 29, 2008 10:13 AM


If Obies have this much energy to talk at end for what is purely an internal college issue, think of what they could accomplish in the real world if they would only set their minds to the huger problems that plague the entire world instead!

Posted by: Donnie on September 29, 2008 6:25 PM


I just want to say that I think you've done a great job with the new Oberlin.edu. I still do not agree with the new mantra for Oberlin, because I don't believe it defines Oberlin students or the ideals they hold.

"Think one person can change the world? So do we." was perhaps one of the most inspirational and motivating mottos for a college that I've seen (sorry, Learning and Labor), and I was quite sad to see it go.

Posted by: Jaremy Rich on April 21, 2009 12:35 AM